The Duchess of Cornwall has opened a state-of-the-art facility for disabled young adults.
The royal visit marked the official opening of the £3 million ‘future life skills’ centre at Chailey Heritage Foundation.
It was also to commemorate the centenary of the foundation’s chapel, described as “the heart of the Heritage”.
As she unveiled a commemorative plaque, Camilla told how her late mother Rosalind Shand, who volunteered at the centre during the 1960s and 70s, would be proud she had returned.
She said: “I visited here two years ago and I cannot get over what a wonderful place it is. I would like to congratulate everyone who was involved.
“It brings back many happy memories for me. My mother worked here as a volunteer for 17 years. Wherever she is now she would be very, very proud and equally pleased I am back here to see all the work that’s been done.”
The new centre has a kitchen, ICT suite, gym, arts and crafts rooms, suite and spa, with 19 to 25- year-olds able to use it on a ‘pay as you use’ basis.
Situated near Lewes the found a t i o n was created by Dame Grace Kimmins in 1903 after she brought seven disabled children from the East End to be educated and receive medical support.
It now has three parts, a school for youngsters aged three to 19 with complex disabilities, a children’s home, and the new life skills centre, which helps users make the transition into adulthood.
Accompanied by patron of the foundation, HRH the Duchess of Gloucester, the royal party met smiling staff and pupils under a warm glow of sunshine.
The duchess, who grew up in nearby Plumpton, was presented with a mascot teddy bear by enterprise leader Lesley Preston-Roberts.
Lesley said: “We gave her our Chailey bear, which is the school mascot and used to raise funds for young people.
"We sell the wristbands to raise more money for trips and whoever takes the bear on holiday emails a picture, back, which we use in a fundraising calendar.
“The visit was wonderful; she was so easy to talk to. It means a lot to our young people that she’s wearing one of our wristbands.”
One pupil with cerebral palsey enquired after the royal baby. Thomas Nightingale, 16, told the duchess: “I’ve heard about the news that Kate’s having a baby. I wish her all the best. I think it’s going to be a girl.”
Camilla replied: “What makes you think it’s going to be a girl?”
Thomas said: “I’ve just got a feeling about it.”
Camilla added: “Well we will see if your feeling is proved right.”
During a service at St Martin’s Chapel the royals heard reminiscences from a former scholar.
Janet Wilkins told how mischievous former pupil Ian Durie, of ‘Hit me with your rhythm stick’ fame, used to hide Mars bar wrappers in church organ pipes.
During a short speech the Duchess of Gloucester said: “I feel sure that the next 100 years in this chapel will be just as important as the last 100 years.”
The royal party was also given a tour of the life skills centre Grace Kimmins House.
Budgeted at £3m, the fundraising office raised £1.6m for the project, with £1.2 coming from trustee reserves and a further £200,000 needed to finance the Grade-II listed building renovation.
It boasts a range of workshops including a 3D printer which produces laser-crafted plastic moulds, with users unable to use theirhandsable to make designs using eye-recognition computer technology.
The kitchen has a range of adapted equipment to make cooking more accessible, while a gymnasium gives users a chance to improve hand-eye coordination and fitness.
Speaking outside the house, Dame Kimmins’ granddaughter Verena Hanbury said: “This has to be one of the happiest and most historic days in the history of the Heritage.”
Charity principle Sylvia Lamb said: “The concept behind the life centre is that young adults can come and use it when they want. When you get to 19 to 25, keeping yourself in good health for later life is not that prominent in many people’s minds, but using a gym like other people is of much greater interest.
You don’t have to do everything, you can pick and choose.”